Relay Graduate School of Education – Illegal lobbying marks effort to undermine Connecticut’s teacher certification law

The charter school industry and their allies in the corporate education reform business are chortling over the news that the State Board of Education is meeting on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. in Room 1D of the Legislative Office Building Room to approve an underhanded effort to allow a major education reform company to end-run Connecticut’s teacher preparation program.

According to the State Board of Education’s agenda, Governor Dannel Malloy’s political appointees will hold an executive session, on Wednesday, and then immediately re-convene to adopt a motion that would allow the charter school industry’s Relay Graduate School of Education to operate in Connecticut.

Recently rejected in both California and Pennsylvania, the Relay Graduate School of Education corporation has set up shop in New Haven, Connecticut where it offers selected charter school personnel and others with a drive-through Master’s Degree in Education.

As for Relay Graduate School of Education, Seton Hall Professor Daniel Katz wrote a scathing article about the education reform entity reporting;

It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First… Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.

Not only is the Malloy administration’s upcoming action bad public policy, it now appears that the Relay Graduate School of Education is violating Connecticut law on two fronts.

Although officials from the highest level of the Relay School of Education have been lobbying top officials of the Malloy administration, the New York based company has failed to register with the State Ethics Office, as required by state law.

Connecticut law clearly requires that any individual or organizations engaged in lobbying MUST register and file monthly reports with the Office of State Ethics. A requirement that Relay has failed to fulfill.  The Ethics agency explains that,

“Administrative Lobbying  is  any lobbying that affects, among other things, the rules or regulations of an executive agency, and the actions of an executive or quasi-public agency regarding a contract, grant, award, purchasing agreement, etc.;”

In addition to illegally seeking to impact Connecticut public policy, Relay is also violating state law by beginning operations in Connecticut prior to being granted the required permission.

Sadly, the effort to undermine Connecticut’s teacher preparation system and the value of teacher certification is nothing new for Malloy and his administration. Malloy has consistently sought to divert scarce public funds to the charter schools, while degrading the value of Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs.  In this case, he achieves both goals.  The Vice Chair of Relay Graduate School’s Board of Directors is none-other-than Dacia Toll, the CEO of Achievement First, Inc., the charter school chain that has pulled in millions of dollars in Connecticut taxpayer funds as a result of Malloy’s policies.

You can read more about the Relay School of Education via Wendy Lecker’s article – Drive up education degree is an insult to every student, parent, teacher and taxpayer

A void in oversight of charter schools (By Wendy Lecker)

Surprise!  Connecticut taxpayers are giving privately owned and operated charter schools more than $110 million a year, with little to no oversight.  Meanwhile, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic controlled state legislature are implementing the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public schools.  The budget cuts, along with the inadequate funding allocated for public schools mean Connecticut’s public school students will be getting less, while local property taxpayers will be charged even more.

In another MUST READ piece, public education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker reports on the void in oversight of Connecticut’s charter schools.

Wendy Lecker writes;

One would think that after the scandals involving Connecticut’s two large charter chains, Jumoke and Achievement First, Connecticut’s education officials would finally exert some meaningful oversight over Connecticut’s charter sector.

One would be wrong.

This week the Connecticut Mirror reported that Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell dismissed a complaint against Bridgeport Achievement First, for using uncertified teachers for 47 percent of its staff, in violation of Connecticut statute. Wentzell unilaterally decided that the law allowing complaints against public schools does not apply to charters; despite the fact that charters receive more than $100 million each year in public taxpayer dollars.

Wentzell disregarded the data showing Achievement First’s misdeeds, claiming the State Department of Education (SDE) will wait until the charter comes up for renewal. Wentzell apparently ignored the law allowing her to put a charter on probation “at any time.”

The laissez-faire attitude toward charter schools pervades this administration. At the June 1 State Board of Education meeting, where the board voted to grant waivers to six charters to increase their enrollment beyond the statutory cap, Mark Linabury, head of SDE’s Choice Bureau, stated that when it comes to charter oversight, “we operate in the dark” until the renewal process.

While SDE closes its eyes, the complaints against charters pile up. Last week, students at Achievement First’s Amistad High School in New Haven staged a mass walkout to protest racial insensitivity and harsh discipline. They might have also protested the abominable graduation rate which, counting attrition since ninth grade, was 53 percent in 2015 — well below New Haven’s.

Amistad is one of the schools granted an enrollment increase waiver on June 1; supposedly based on Amistad’s academic performance (a 53-percent graduation rate?). Recommending the increase, SDE declared that Amistad draws 100 percent of its students from New Haven. However, the New Haven Independent, in reporting the walkout story, noted “(a)t 10:20, students who live in Bridgeport went inside after they were told they would not be allowed to board buses home if they didn’t.” Indeed, students told reporter Paul Bass that half of Amistad students come from Bridgeport every day. Is anyone at SDE minding the store?

Students have well-founded complaints about Amistad’s discipline practices. While suspensions statewide decreased from 2010 through 2015, they skyrocketed at Amistad, from 302 to 1,307 suspensions. There were more suspensions in 2014-15 than there were students, who numbered 984. During that five-year period, enrollment increased by about 25 percent, while suspensions more than quadrupled.

Other charters granted enrollment expansion waivers on June 1 also have deplorable suspension rates. Bridgeport’s Achievement First had 1,641 suspensions, almost double the number of students, 977, in 2014-15. The number of suspensions more than tripled since 2010-11, when there were 456, and 409 students.

Great Oaks Charter School in Bridgeport, operating for just one year, had 154 suspensions, outpacing its enrollment of 127 students. Great Oaks received the waiver for the largest increase in seats. Explaining the basis for exceeding the statutory cap, Linabury stated that there was a strict focus on the school’s performance.

Apparently SDE does not consider abusive discipline worth investigating. It should. A recent UCLA report found that nationwide, suspensions lead to dropouts, costing more than $46 billion in lost tax revenue and other social costs.

SDE admitted that, academically, Great Oaks performs well below the state average, and worse than Bridgeport, its host district. Yet SDE still recommended Great Oaks for an increase, which the board rubber-stamped.

Beyond its appalling lack of oversight, SDE made blatant misrepresentations in its quest to expand charters. SDE’s CFO Kathleen Dempsey, declared that before these charters opened, “local approval and support” were required. For Great Oaks and another school granted a statutory increase, Stamford Charter School for Excellence, that statement is false. The public and the local boards of education opposed these charters.

Some state board members feigned dismay that there was ample funding for charter increases while the state slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from vo-tech, magnets and public schools. They then approved the enrollment increases, without any investigation into discipline abuses, uncertified teachers or other misdeeds.

The members declared it would be unfair not to expand enrollment because the charters already held the lotteries for these seats. When asked why the charters held lotteries for seats before they were even approved, SDE again abdicated responsibility, claiming SDE has no say over charter lotteries.

With billions of dollars and student well-being at stake, Connecticut’s children and taxpayers deserve better than officials who sit idly by while charter schools call all the shots.

You can read and comment on Wendy Lecker’s original article in the Stamford Advocate at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-A-void-in-oversight-of-charter-7988759.php

10 courageous Democrats almost stop ethically challenged Erik Clemons from serving on State Board of Education…but small group of Republican legislators save Malloy’s nominee

Thanks to ten courageous Democratic members of the Connecticut House of Representatives, Governor Dannel Malloy’s ethically challenged nominee for the State Board of Education, Erik Clemons, was on the verge of being rejected by the General Assembly earlier this afternoon.

It would have been a huge victory for honesty and ethics in government, as well as for those who believe in public education.

However, Governor Malloy won this stunning battle – an issue that received no media coverage except here at Wait, What? – thanks to ten Republican legislators who crossed over to vote with the majority of Democrats and in favor of Malloy’s choice to serve on the state board that sets education policy in Connecticut.

As has been repeated reported on this blog, Erik Clemons is the charter school advocate whose company is benefiting from a lucrative, no-bid contract that is funded through, and monitored by, the very government entity that Malloy has appointed him to serve on.

As reported yesterday, the House vote on Erik Clemons’ and the ethical issues that should have prevented him from serving on the State Board of Education were scheduled for a vote today.  (See How will CT legislators vote on Malloy’s ethically challenged State Board of Education appointee?)

When the vote was taken, ten Democratic Members of the Connecticut House of Representatives put ethics, honesty and Connecticut’s children, students, parents and public schools above Malloy’s political agenda.  The Democratic legislators voting no were;

Representative Baker

Representative Conroy

Representative Gonzalez

Representative Hampton

Representative Morin

Representative Nicastro

Representative Rose

Representative Sanchez

Representative Tarcyak

And Representative and Deputy Speaker of the House Godfrey

 

However, Malloy’s victory came thanks to the following Republicans who voted to disregard the serious ethics issues and in favor of Malloy’s nominee and their anti-public education agenda.  Republican legislators voting to put Erik Clemons on the State Board of Education were;

Representative Hoydick

Representative Kokuruda

Representative Legeyt

Representative Noujaim

Representative O’Neill

Representative Pavalock

Representative Perillo

Representative Piscopo

Representative Wood

Representative Yaccarino.

Had the Republicans stood together on this critically important issue of principle and refused to allow an individual to sit on the State Board of Education when that person and their company benefits from funding that is overseen and approved by the State Board of Education, Clemons nomination would have lost by a vote of 68 in favor of Malloy’s choice and 72 opposed.

More on this breaking story as it becomes available.

For the full vote go to:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/VOTE/h/2016HV-00014-R00HJ00027-HV.htm

 

NOTE:

Fellow public education advocate Wendy Lecker and I have written extensively about Clemons’ conflict of interest and Malloy’s attempt to, once again, throw ethics aside.  Here are links to those articles:

Malloy turns to charter school industry for names to appoint to the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 3-5-16)

CT legislature’s nomination committee votes 10 to 4 today to confirm Erik Clemons to State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-18-16)

It’s a CONFLICT OF INTEREST to serve on the State Board of Education while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year via the State Department of Education (Wait, What? 2-17-16)

Company run by Malloy appointee to the State Board of Education collects $517,128 in funds allocated by the State Board of Education. (Wait, What? 2-16-16)

New State Board of Education member collects multi-million dollar contract via State Board of Education (Wait, What? 1-5-16)

Malloy gives Charter School Industry another seat on the CT State Board of Education (Wait, What? 12-23-15)

More shocking and disturbing reports of Connecticut school officials misleading parents and bullying children on Common Core SBAC testing!

This week’s request by Wait, What? for information about how public school districts in Connecticut are handling parents who want to opt their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests has generated numerous reports that school administrators in a number of districts continue to mislead parents about their fundamental and inalienable right to opt their children out of the testing madness. (See:  Students, Parents, Teachers – Are SBAC testing opt-out requests being handled appropriately in your school?)

Even more shocking are the new reports that additional school districts are actually bulling and abusing children whose parents have opted them out of the SBAC testing scheme.

Immediate action is needed to stop the abuse, along with an independent investigation to determine who has been involved in these practices.

A number of schools are informing students and parents that any child who has been opted out of the Common Core SBAC tests by their parent will be forced to remain in the testing room throughout the test periods, despite the fact that such a tactic violates the Mandatory SBAC testing regulations and protocol. (See:  ALERT – Students opted out of SBAC testing must be provided alternative location during testing.)

Requiring students to stay in the testing room is unfair to both the children who have been opted out and the children who are still taking the test.

In addition, there are apparently a growing number of districts that are telling students who have been opted out of the SBAC testing that they MUST SIGN-IN to the SBAC test on testing days before they will be released from having to complete the rest of the SBAC test.

While this unethical maneuver will make it appear that the school district has met their “mandated” participation rate of at least 95 percent, students who are forced sign in – in order to opt out – will be left with a zero for an SBAC test score, a label of “failure” that will become part of their academic record.

PARENTS PLEASE TAKE NOTE!   If you have opted your child out of the SBAC test make sure that the school is not forcing your child to sign into the test BEFORE being released from the test!

With the Malloy administration continues to use the State Department of Education to undermine Connecticut’s students, parents and public schools, the lack of outrage on the part of many of Connecticut’s elected officials is truly stunning!

With Connecticut General Assembly in the middle of the 2016 legislative session, legislators have an immediate opportunity to stand up against Malloy’s State Department of Education.

Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen is also in a unique position to demand that the State Department of Education and local school districts end their illegal SBAC related activities.

As students, parents, teachers and Connecticut citizens look on, the question remains – will Connecticut’s elected officials take action to protect their constituents and their public schools?

Students, Parents, Teachers – Are SBAC testing opt-out requests being handled appropriately in your school?

The Connecticut State Department of Education has decreed that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests will be given between March 15, 2016 and June 10, 2106, for public school students in grades 3-8.

In New York State last year, a massive protest against the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme resulted in approximately 200,000 students (about 1 in 5 students in New York) being opted out of that state’s Common Core testing program.  New York State’s opt out numbers are expected to be very high again this year.

Although New York Governor Andrew Cuomo supports the Common Core and the testing frenzy that goes with it, he has publicly recognized that parents have a fundamental and inalienable right to opt their children out of the testing program and his administration has announced that they will NOT be taking any action to punish students, parents or school districts due to the low participation rates in the Common Core tests.

As Wait, What? readers know, however, the story in Connecticut has been the exact opposite.

Under incredible pressure from Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration, many Connecticut school districts continue to mislead and lie to parents about their right to opt their children out of the SBAC testing.  Furthermore, in response to large opt out rates in some schools, the Malloy administration has announce that they will begin to punish districts by withholding federal funding that is intended to help poor children and will be taking additional action if school districts fail to stop parents from opting their children out of the SBAC tests.

As a result of the pressure, one school district outside of New Haven, the local superintendent recently sent an email to all the teachers and staff in the district saying,

“Once again, I want to be extremely clear that there will be no opting out of state testing for any student…”

The superintendent is taking this stance despite the fact that there is no federal or state law that prohibits a parent from opting their child out of the test.

As if the state and local effort to undermine parental rights wasn’t outrageous enough, parents are reporting that some school districts are actually going after the children themselves.

In an unbelievable abuse of authority, a school district near Hartford is telling parents and students that any child who is opted out of the unfair SBAC test must remain in the testing room with their classmates for the 7 hours or so of SBAC testing that will be taking place in the coming weeks.

To refuse to relocate a child, some as young as 10 years old, to the library or an alternative location and forcing them to sit silently for seven hours with nothing to do is nothing short of child abuse.

In addition, to leave the child who is not taking the test in the testing room is in direct violation of the SBAC testing regulations.  See:  ALERT – Students opted out of SBAC testing must be provided alternative location during testing

The SBAC Test Administrators Manual could not be clearer;

 “Students who are not being tested or unauthorized staff or other adults must not be in the room where a test is being administered.”

The requirements in the SBAC Test Administration Manual are not optional.  See Smarter Balanced: Summative Assessment Test Administration Manual English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics 2015–2016 Published January 3, 2016 (page 2-4)

So Students, Parents and Teachers:

With the Common Core SBAC testing scam about to begin in Connecticut schools,  please take a moment to report on how you school is handling opt out requests and how the school is dealing with students who have been opted out?

Please send information to [email protected]

All communication will be kept confidential unless permission is given to use some of the information.

What parents don’t know about the massive data collection that is taking place in public schools

Last November, the Washington Post headline read, The astonishing amount of data being collected about your children.  The article reported on the “Brave New World” of data collection and data mining that is taking place in the nation’s public schools and how private companies are accessing and using that information for profit.

The media coverage in the Washington Post continued this past January with a piece entitled, New student database slammed by privacy experts.

Although the issue has yet to generate a lot of media attention here in Connecticut, all across the United States parents and advocacy groups have been highlighting the growing problem and demanding that public officials take steps to protect students, parents and teachers from the government and corporate education reform industry’s efforts to collect and utilize information.

Here in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration have been moving “full-speed head” with national and state plans to collect large amounts of data on Connecticut’s public school students and teachers, some of which will undoubtedly end up in the hands of companies looking to market their products.

As a result of a series of policy changes, parents not only have little knowledge of this growing problem, but have little say over what information is being collected about their children and how it can be used.

At the recent State Department of Education meeting in which a group of school superintendents were instructed on how to mislead parents about their right to opt out of the Common Core SBAC testing scheme, one high ranking employee with the state department of education mocked concerns about the potential misuse of the data collected during the SBAC testing process.

However, whether their statement was due to intention or ignorance, their dismissal spoke volumes about how little public officials care about what parents think or want.

Officials can’t hide the truth forever.

Jennifer Jacobsen, a public education advocate in Connecticut, serves as the director of the Connecticut Alliance for Privacy in Education and is among the most outspoken leaders in the effort to force public officials to address the very serious issues regarding the use and misuse of the data being collected in public schools.

In a recent CT Mirror commentary piece, Jennifer Jacobson wrote;

The Connecticut Alliance for Privacy in Education– CAPE- represent a diverse membership of organizations who have come together to advocate for a comprehensive student data law in our state. Our members include:

The Connecticut Parent Teachers Association, Connecticut Parental Rights Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union -CT, Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, Connecticut Association of Private Special Education Facilities, CT Council of Administrators of Special Education, CT Federation of School Administrators, CT Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Connecticut Education Association, Connecticut Education Association College Student Program….and growing.

The mission of CAPE is to protect the children, students, families, and educators of Connecticut by addressing the risks associated with the collection of student data and other educational records.

There is great potential for the appropriate use of student data to bring positive outcomes for our children and students. However, the use of student data also brings with it immense responsibility and great risk to the safety and civil liberties of children and their families.

Policymakers, educators, parents, and communities must ensure that all individuals and entities who have access to student data take steps to protect the lives behind the data.

Thirty-three states have enacted 55 laws thus far around the issue of student data. Legislatures around the nation continue today to have this important discussion. Connecticut is among a minority of states that have yet to enact legislation pertaining to the protection and use of student data, leaving our children and families inadequately protected. As such the Education Committee of the General Assembly has raised HB 5469: An Act Concerning Student Data Privacy.

HB 5469 does accomplish some welcome changes in policy:

The prohibition on student tracking and profiling, limiting data collection by school contracted apps and websites, the limitation on advertising, the requirement of de-identification of student information for use to improve a site or product, and the limited use of directory information are examples of such improvements. Further, the inclusion of a parent notification provision that their child has become a party to a contract or when there has been a breach are additional strengths of the bill. However, the bill is limited only to contractors who store education records and operators of websites and apps, and excludes state data collection and other third parties who have access to student information.

Based on testimony that was submitted at the public hearing on March 2, we feel that additions to the bill should expand to include the following provisions:

Marne Usher of the CT PTA stated their organization’s concern surrounding the limited scope of the bill and advocated that they would “like to see legislation that ensures consistent policies for ALL student data regardless of who is collecting it. Parents have the right to know about ALL data that is collected in their child’s record. Parental consent should be the first step before any data collection and we see no mention of this in the legislation”

ACLU-CT, David McGuire primarily focused on civil liberties protections for students in regards to baseless searches and seizures of students’ personal electronic devices and passwords citing “the patchwork of unequal privacy policies” used in districts around the state, urging the committee to expand protections in the bill that would uphold students Constitutional 14th amendments rights.

Ray Rossomando of the Connecticut Education Association focused on changes to the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which historically prohibited the disclosure of education records of students unless a parent consented. Parental consent is no longer required in many instances simply by using the correct exception to the law, ironically at a time when parents report having a harder time garnering access to their own child’s data.

Rossomando also requested that the committee consider providing guidelines to educators and other school personnel to learn about safe and secure data handling strategies and extend the bills coverage to include educator information since they too are exposed to similar risks. Greater oversight and citizen input were further themes of his testimony that would strengthen the comprehensive intent of this bill.

Understanding the potential for the misuse of lifetime data collection on children Pam Lucashu, Legislative Liaison to TEACH CT cited banning “the use of this information being used to influence or determine the employability, criminal liability, financial standing or the reputation of the student”, which is a protective provision in human subject research protections in policy that should be codified into law to exclude such use. In fact, many other states have explicitly prohibited juvenile delinquency records, medical records and criminal records of students from being included as education records for exactly this reason.

Finally, any law that does not contain an enforcement process and a penalty for violation of that law, which HB 5469 does not, relegates its purpose to a guideline. There must be a means of enforcement and liability.

When sensitive student information enters into a data system or leaves the school building to an outside party risk ensues. It is at the point when student information is poised to leave the school, that the system to protect that data must begin.

Connecticut’s system to protect student information needs to be far more effective, uniform, and transparent than it is today. This is an attainable goal. The clarifications, amendments and additions to this bill suggested in here and at the public hearing by the members of CAPE and others would take us far toward accomplishing that goal.

It is with this vision of care and protection of this generation’s future, free and unhindered from a lifetime of collected information that may come to be used against them that we, the members of CAPE, in partnership with countless thousands of people around Connecticut call on the Education Committee, General Assembly and leadership to do the right thing for the students of this state and enact an comprehensive student data security, transparency, and privacy law.

Our kids and our families deserve no less than those in other states. We cannot allow for interest in the data, special or otherwise, to supersede the digital security of our children, nor infringe upon their civil liberties, nor keep our parents and guardians in the dark any longer.

New Canaan parent and education advocate Maria Naughton submitted testimony stating “parents, families and children do not have corporate backing, PAC’s, large philanthropic organizations or venture capitalists funding our efforts to protect our children. We are relying on those who have been elected to represent our interests and to do what is in the best interest of our children.”

Indeed.

The Connecticut’ General Assembly’s Education Committee will soon be taking up the legislation Jennifer Jacobsen addressed  in her commentary piece.

Legislators will be faced with the opportunity to strengthen this proposed new law or continue to look away while the education reform industry and their supporters undermine the privacy rights of students, parents and teachers.

For more about the legislation go to Cape4kids.org

The names and contact information for the members Connecticut’s Education Committee can be found here – https://www.cga.ct.gov/ed/

Some previous Wait, What? articles about big data, data mining and privacy can found here:

Will CT elected officials enact appropriate safeguards on student privacy this session?

Public Good or Private Gain – the story behind the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s Data Mining Effort

Are Governor Malloy’s new Google Chromebooks data mining our kids?

They have your child’s data and they aren’t afraid to use it.

Additional background on the data and data mining issue can also be found at Diane Ravitch’s blog.  As the nation’s leading pro-public education advocate she has reported and written extensively about the issue.  Examples include;

U.S. Department of Education Still Pursuing Your Child’s Data

Grit and Data Mining

What You Need to Know about Data Mining of Students

CONNECT THE DOTS: Competency-Based Education, Digitized Instruction, Data Mining, The Vanishing Teacher, and Profit

Parents to New York Education Leaders: No Snooping on Our Children’s Private Data

Your Child’s Personal Records Are Part of a Massive Government Database

 

Yes, CT State Department of Education Officials’ behavior was rude and appalling!

Last Friday’s Wait, What? article, Incredulous: Watching CT Department of Education officials lecture school administrators on how to mislead parents, reported on the incredible meeting in which public officials from Governor Dannel Malloy’s State Department of Education lectured a group of school administrators about how to STOP  parents from opting their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme and then quickly shut down the meeting when a parent stood up to explain why many people feel so strongly about the significant problems associated with the SBAC testing craze,

As the post explained:

“Just when I thought I had truly seen everything when it comes to the arrogance, elitism, audacity and contemptuousness of those associated with the corporate funded “Education Reform” effort, I witnessed something even more breathtakingly incredible this past Monday at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

It has taken the week to even begin to be able to put into words what I and a handful of other parents and public school advocates witnessed.  In fact, I wouldn’t have believed it, had I not seen it for myself.”

Highlighting the utter absurdity of the entire event was the presentation of a 27 slide PowerPoint presentation that these public servants used to “educate” local school officials about how to communicate with students, parents, teachers and their communities.

On one slide, the State Department returned what appears to be their favorite graphic, an upside down Maslow’s Triangle.

However, rather than use the triangle to explain the quintessential hierarchy of needs, the PR oriented State Department of Education officials used it to instruct superintendents how to “tailor your communication to the needs of families regarding annual assessment.”

At the lowest tip of the triangle were, “Families who are strongly opposed to annual assessment and refuse participation.”

The Deputy Commission compared this group to people who don’t want their children to learn about evolution. (A pretty hostile and ignorant statement if I ever head one)

The State Department of Education’s instructions were;

Provide year round factual information

Be respectful of the family’s stance on assessment

Offer large, small or 1:1 group learning opportunities

Be open to ongoing discussion

But then, at end of the meeting, when a parent actually rose to discuss her concerns, it turned out that the last thing these public officials intended was to actually be respectful or open to discussion.

You can watch a clip of the Deputy Commissioner’s response to the parent at: https://youtu.be/XA3cX3Z8Qnk

In a MUST READ commentary piece published in today’s CT Mirror, lawyer and parent advocate Deborah G. Stevenson describes the scene in greater detail,

Parents’ rights group: Education officials’ behavior rude and appalling (By Deborah Stevenson)

As part of Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell’s “leadership strategies,” designed to urge superintendents to “encourage” parents to have their children take the SBAC test rather than to opt out, the commissioner called in superintendents from public school districts across the state to the department’s Hartford headquarters for a “training session” on how effectively to communicate with parents.

Facing reduced participation in the SBAC test, the commissioner deemed it necessary to give the superintendents more “tools” to persuade parents to allow their children to take the test.  Among the “tools,” the Commissioner informed the superintendents that if their school district’s participation rate fell below 95 percent, the district would be subject to dire consequences, including the loss of federal funding and the lowering of the ranking of the district moving it closer to a state takeover.

This despite the fact that the Commissioner of Education recently  acknowledged in testimony before the legislature’s Education Committee that parents do have a Constitutionally protected right to refuse to allow their children to take the test. Yet, that right is not being respected when the Commissioner threatens parents, schools, and school districts  with punishment for exercising that right.

When the commissioner called the superintendents for more “training” to increase the participation rates, naturally parents were curious to find out about what the “training” consisted of and sought to find out.

Some noteworthy things happened both before and after the training session about which the public should be aware:

  • Parents politely notified the State Department of Education, days in advance, that they planned to attend the “training session”.
  • While the Freedom of Information Act (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 1-225 and Sec. 1-200) states that “meetings of all public agencies shall be open to the public,” and defines public agency as “including any committee of, or created by, any such office, subdivision, agency, department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official,” and defines “meeting” as “any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency…to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has supervision control, jurisdiction or advisory power,” nonetheless, the State Department of Education attempted to keep the “training session” for superintendents closed to the public, stating it “is not a venue for members of the general public to participate.”
  • Instead, the State Department of Education referred parents elsewhere, telling them that they could “utilize the public comment section during the State Board of Education meeting to voice opinions, ideas and concerns.”
  • The State Department of Education eventually changed its mind about keeping the meeting closed, but notified only one parent of that decision, and did so only five hours before the meeting was to take place. Consequently, only a few parents got that message upon such short notice and were able to attend.
  • Upon arrival at the meeting, those parents were told that they were not allowed to speak at the meeting, and that they were expected to sit quietly and simply observe.
  • The meeting commenced uneventfully and continued for an hour and a half.
  • Those parents in attendance, dutifully and politely, did as they were requested and sat quietly and simply observed until the presentation to the superintendents ended and the superintendents had no further questions.
  • As the deputy commissioner was stating her last words ending the meeting, one parent stood up and thanked the department for its presentation. That parent was allowed to speak, and the thanks offered was accepted.
  • During the presentation, the deputy commissioner expressed to the superintendents that they were to ask parents why they were refusing to allow their children to take the SBAC test. When the parent who stood up after the meeting ended to thank the department attempted to explain why parents refuse to allow their children to take the test, the deputy commissioner stood up abruptly and abrasively interrupted the speaker calling an immediate halt to the meeting, commenting, “See, this is why we shouldn’t have let them in” and she threatened to call security. At that point, the superintendents turned their backs on the parent and exited the room.
  • In effect, the parents acted with patience and respect, quietly observed and listened intently throughout the entire meeting until it had concluded.
  • The Deputy Commissioner of Education, and the superintendents, on the other hand, after being instructed for an hour and a half on how to effectively communicate with parents, quietly observed and listened only for a matter of seconds to the parent, interrupted her, turned their backs to her, and promptly walked out of the room.

Clearly the State Department of Education, and the superintendents, need much more work on their communication skills.  Certainly, lessons in civility also wouldn’t hurt.

One wonders why the State Department of Education was so fearful of what the parent had to say that it was necessary to cut her off and threaten to call security.

Apparently, communication with parents is only a one way street.

It would be wise for the State Department of Education to remember that its members work for the public, and that parents, not the government, have a fundamental Constitutional right to the upbringing and education of their children.

One would at least hope that the department offers an explanation, or an apology, for its most egregious behavior. If it does not, one can only hope the legislature will conduct a thorough investigation.

Deborah G. Stevenson is counsel for the Connecticut Parents’ Rights Coalition.

ALERT – Students opted out of SBAC testing must be provided alternative location during testing

Here we go again…

With the Common Core testing frenzy about to begin in public schools across Connecticut [SBAC testing takes place between March 15 – June 10, 2016], parents are once again reporting that some school districts are informing them that if their child is opted out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core tests they will be required to stay in the testing room and “sit and stare” during the entire testing period.

Such a practice is not only an unethical form of bullying but it violates the State of Connecticut’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) regulations.  Any superintendent, principal or school administrator who requires or allows a “Sit and Star” policy to exist risks losing their certification to work in a Connecticut school  as a result of Connecticut State Statute 10-145b(i)(1).

Students who are opted out of the SBAC testing scheme must be provided an alternative location and are not allowed to stay in the room where testing is taking place.

According to the Connecticut State Department of Education’s “Smarter Balanced: Summative Assessment Test Administration Manual”

“Students who are not being tested or unauthorized staff or other adults must not be in the room where a test is being administered.”

The requirements in the SBAC Test Administration Manual are not optional.

If your child is forced to “sit and stare” or you know of a child who is forced to stay in the testing room during the SBAC testing, that is a serious “security” violation and should be reported to your school district and to the State Department of Education.  If you need assistance, please contact Wait, What? at [email protected] and we will help you file a complaint with the appropriate officials.

For additional background see:

Smarter Balanced: Summative Assessment Test Administration Manual English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics 2015–2016 Published January 3, 2016 (page 2-4)

Security of the Test Environment:  Security requirements for the test environment during various stages of testing. The test environment refers to all aspects of the testing situation while students are testing and includes what a student can see, hear, or access (including access via technology). English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics 2015–2016

Violation of test security is a serious matter with far-reaching consequences. Breaches of test security include, but are not limited to, copying of test materials, failing to return test materials, coaching students, giving students answers, and/or changing students’ answers. Such acts may lead to the invalidation of an entire school district’s student test scores, disruption of the test system state-wide, and legal action against the individual(s) committing the breach. A breach of test security may be dealt with as a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Teachers, as well as a violation of other pertinent state and federal law and regulation. The Connecticut State Department of Education will investigate all such matters and pursue appropriate follow-up action. Any person found to have intentionally breached the security of the test system may be subject to sanctions including, but not limited to, disciplinary action by a local board of education, the revocation of Connecticut teaching certification by the State Board of Education,* and civil liability pursuant to federal copyright law. *See Section 10-145b(i) (1) of the Connecticut General Statutes which reads in relevant part as follows:

The State Board of Education shall revoke any certificate, authorization or permit issued pursuant to said sections if the holder is found to have intentionally disclosed specific questions or answers to students or otherwise improperly breached the security of any administration of a state-wide examination pursuant to Section 10-14n.

Bridgeport Board of Education member Maria Pereira slams Malloy/ConnCAN plan to undermine local school boards

Bridgeport’s Maria Pereira has been one of the most powerful voices fighting on behalf of parents and local residents in the battle to defeat Governor Dannel Malloy’s ongoing efforts to privatize public education through the massive expansion of charter schools and the Malloy administration’s strategies to destroy local control of schools, undermine the role of parents and teachers, and turn public schools into Common Core testing factories.

In response to the outrageous provisions of HB 5551, Maria Pereira submitted the following testimony to the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee, which is holding a public hearing on the latest maneuver by Malloy and the corporate education reform group, ConnCAN, to strip local citizens of their most fundamental and Constitutional right to oversee local public education.

Pereira writes;

I am urgently writing to you regarding this outrageous and completely undemocratic revision to the Commissioner’s Network of Schools.

I cannot speak for any other municipality, but as someone born and raised in Bridgeport that received my entire K-12 public education from the Bridgeport Public Schools, a member of the Bridgeport Board of Education, the lead plaintiff in the CT Supreme Court decision which ruled the takeover of the BPS in 2011 was illegal, and an absolute defender of democracy and true public education in Bridgeport, I ask every single one of you to oppose this blatant power grab which undoubtedly is backed by our Fairfield County billionaires, millionaires, Wall Street executives, ConnCAN, FES, CERC, Northeast Charter Schools, etc.

The residents of Bridgeport have been absolutely clear on the issue of democracy, an elected school board, and local control. Although FORMER Mayor Finch and his billionaire/millionaire supporters spent close to $600,000 in November 2012 to approve a change to our Charter eliminating an elected BOE and granting the Mayor sole authority to appoint our BOE, the voters soundly rejected this initiative at the polls. The Bridgeport community came together to fund a lawsuit to remove the ” Michael Jordan of Education Reform” Paul Vallas as our Superintendent. Bridgeport accomplished what Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia could not.  Many of us to this day firmly believe Paul Vallas  was brought to Bridgeport to convert our entire public school system to charter schools.

Should Bill 5551 pass, the Commissioner of Education will have sole authority to choose an UNLIMITED amount of schools in the bottom 5% to enter the Commissioner’s Network for an UNLIMITED period of time without the approval of the elected school board, or the turnaround committee which apparently would now be appointed by the Commissioner of Education. The School Governance Councils are completely eliminated from any involvement in this critical decision.

Do you think it is a coincidence this Bill is being introduced in the first year where the developmentally inappropriate SBAC test scores, which is based on the incredibly flawed Common Core standards, are being used to measure school performance? The SBAC cut scores were specifically chosen to ensure between 60-70% of our students failed which certainly impacts the number of schools that meet the criteria to qualify for the Commissioner’s Network Schools.

The Turnaround Committee serves in an “advisory” capacity only. The agreement between the DOE and the BOE is NOT decided by the local elected board but by the Turnaround Committee. Should the Turnaround Committee vote to reject the plan, the Commissioner of Education will have sole authority to circumvent the Turnaround Committee’s decision. How convenient.

During a potential “planning year” the Commissioner may designate a “receiver” or “ANY other entity to operate the commissioner’s network school.” These “designees” may be granted “the powers of the superintendent and school board” and reports directly to the commissioner. The Commissioner of Ed. has sole authority to identify a ‘receiver,” “school leader” or “operator” to oversee schools in the commissioner’s network.”

The Commissioner of Ed. also has sole authority to withhold funds from a local school district, and the piece de resistance; they have sole authority to CLOSE a school and reassign those students.

BILL 5551 is an absolute insult to DEMOCRACY, ELECTED school boards, and LOCAL control.

The legislature has willingly and knowingly severely underfunded urban school districts like Bridgeport for decades, but now wants to potentially point their finger at those very same cities and claim they are at fault for the performance of their public schools while allowing the proliferation of charter schools,  which this year alone drained $5 million dollars from the BPS.

Those who live the realities of cities like Bridgeport every day, and have dedicated their lives to the well-being of our BPS students know what is best for our children, not those who work in Hartford. As a legislator, do you believe that the legislators of Massachusetts could possibly know what is in the best interest of CT when compared to you? Our urban school districts aren’t struggling because school administrators and dedicated staff don’t know what they are doing. They are struggling because of severe and chronic underfunding and because of social issues most suburban districts will never face.

This Bill is an insult to every resident, taxpayer, parent, grandparent, and educator that lives and breathes Bridgeport every day. Therefore I urge all of you to vehemently reject its passing.

As Malloy Admin seeks massive new powers to take over local schools, two Windham parents explain what takeover actually means

Yesterday’s Wait, What Post — WARNING Connecticut – They are coming for your schools and your democratic rights! — was A Breaking News Alert from Jonathan Pelto and Wendy Lecker.

Please Read if you haven’t already at http://jonathanpelto.com/2016/03/06/warning-connecticut-coming-schools-democratic-rights/

Today  – Monday, March 7, 2016 the Education Committee will be holding a public hearing on HB 5551, a new proposed bill that would grant Governor Malloy and his administration unprecedented and far-reaching powers to take over local public schools, undermine democratically elected school boards, suspend existing Connecticut laws and union contracts and unilaterally institute policies without the input from parents, teachers, school administrators, local elected officials and citizens.

Such a measure should be unconstitutional.  It certainly violates the most basic principle of democracy and local control of education.

In response to this new proposal, two Windham, Connecticut parents speak out and explain what happened when the state of Connecticut took over the Windham Public Schools.

This is a MUST READ for every legislator and voter in Connecticut

Testimony of Dr. Mary Gallucci, Windham Parent;

As a parent of two children attending Windham Public Schools, I wish to testify regarding the negative effects of the Commissioner’s Network.  One of my sons was at Windham Middle School when it was admitted into the Network.  My husband was on the Turnaround Committee that completed a plan for the school, tailored to the needs of our community.  Teachers played a crucial role in formulating a plan appropriate for our students, among whom are many bilingual children. Unfortunately, many of the most important features of the plan, such as extended learning time in core subjects and a longer school day to include enrichment in art, music, and academic tutoring, were never funded at adequate levels by the state.  In requiring a longer school day but by not paying teachers enough additional salary, Windham teachers (who are among the lowest paid in the state) ended up earning the lowest pay for the longest day.  Although the plan specified that additional math teachers and tutors should be hired, this did not occur—at first due to shortages in these areas among job candidates; later due to the state-appointed Special Master’s introduction of Teach for America, which brought corps members with no particular specialty and no education background; and, finally, because of the persistent lack of funds.

The goals of the Commissioner’s Network appeared to be to circumvent collective bargaining agreements; to hire outside consultants such as Mass Insight; and to increase the amount of time devoted to a bewildering variety of standardized test packages and pilots (some estimate that there are 37 different standardized tests administered per student in certain grades).  During the first two years of Windham Middle School’s membership in the Commissioner’s Network, teacher, staff, and administrator turnover reached a new high, while student morale and “achievement” declined significantly.  At the same time, outside agencies, lobbyists, and others attempted to bring charter schools into the district in order to drain badly needed monies from public schools to private charter management companies and consultants.

I am disheartened and alarmed to see that a bill to expand such a questionable (if not harmful) Network is before the Education Committee.  Committee members and legislators should do a more thorough examination of the effects of the interventions, such as on Milner School in Hartford, Curiale in Bridgeport, and Windham Middle School in Windham, for a start.  The Committee should also be mindful of the longer history of attempts to waive or suspend laws enacted by our legislature.  I am incensed that, if this bill is passed:

Not later than July 1, 2016, the commissioner shall identify a standard set of waivers from laws that hinder the ability of the Department of Education, or its designee, to effectively implement the provisions of this subsection in a commissioner’s network school.

How can this be legal, let alone moral?  Historically, the suspension of law is associated with martial law, and martial law is typically exercised by tyrants and despots.  Poor children and children of color already suffer from insufficient academic resources; they attend inadequately maintained school buildings; and they are often taught by the lowest-paid and least experienced teachers.  Now the State of Connecticut is going to take the protections of law away from them?  Such an outrage is a blatant example of oppression and would never be allowed in wealthier, whiter school districts—nor should it be.  Such tactics belong in the annals of history, to which tyranny, slavery, racism, and other forms of oppression should be relegated, for the purposes of study and as negative examples.

My son’s school has not been elevated out of poverty, lack of resources, high teacher and staff turnover, and low morale due to its time in the Commissioner’s Network.  I ask that you, elected representatives, stand with the children of poor communities and, rather than siphon off state monies, promote researched-based and humane reforms for our schools.  Do not strip poor children and their families of laws and legal protections just because well-funded lobbyists would like you to do so.

Testimony of Dr. Jerry Phillips, Windham Parent

It is my understanding that the Committee on Education for the Connecticut General Assembly is being asked to consider a bill that proposes the expansion (and deregulated operation) of the Commissioner’s Network, established to promote the turnaround of “low-performing schools” in the State of Connecticut. The General Assembly conceived of the Commissioner’s Network as a partnership between the State and the local educational district: the State would provide additional resources and managerial leadership whereas the local district would supply the human creativity and energy needed to put the turnaround plan into effect. It was assumed by those who crafted the legislation that “local knowledge” was an invaluable factor in designing appropriate turnaround models, as officers at the State Department of Education could not be expected to have the same degree of familiarity with the problems on the ground as the local educators and parents and other key agents in the local community. It was clear that the legislature intended to preserve the ethos of community participation in local education democracy, even as the local education board conceded sovereignty to the State in managing the turnaround schools in question. However, it might well be asked if the legislative intent to preserve democracy actually achieved that result when the law regarding the Commissioner’s Network went into effect.

I had the privilege to serve on the turnaround committee that devised a plan for Windham Middle School, as the school was brought into the Commissioner’s Network. As I’m sure you are aware, Windham is an economically distressed community, with powerful needs in bilingual programming and in Special Education. Like other urban communities in the State of Connecticut, Windham has a range of social and economic problems that impacts the systemic delivery of: unemployment and underemployment are by no means negligible; home foreclosures are not uncommon; and the local tax base is woefully inadequate to provide for schools at the appropriate level. I don’t mean to provide here a sociology or economics lesson, I am only trying to paint you a portrait of the truly difficult circumstances in which Windham schools are obliged to operate, and the real challenges these pose to school turnarounds.

The Windham Middle School turnaround Committee made a good faith effort to come up with a plan that best served our children, while also meeting the formal requirements of the Commissioner’s Network. But the process was protracted and stressful to all concerned, because powerful figures at the State Department of Education (including the Commissioner) disavowed the recommendations of the Committee and tried to steer the turnaround plan in directions they preferred. This rejection of democracy could have been justified had we devised a plan that was entirely hopeless, with no chance of success; but such was not the case. Our plan had precedent in other turnaround models, and it seemed to us most appropriate to Windham’s specific needs. There was no evidence to be had to prove its likely ineffectiveness.

It soon became clear that the State Department of Education was resistant to our turnaround plan on purely ideological grounds, because our plan made no room for privatizing initiatives of any sort. As a committee, we were convinced that a Charter School Management Company or any such player in the new educational market would not have the expertise, the long-term commitment or the social vision to aid in turning around the local Middle School.  There is a weighty and still growing body of evidence that Charter Schools do no better—and often worse—than local education districts in improving student achievement at “low performing schools.” But the question is larger than just student achievement: Charter School Management Companies, as private entities, have a devastating and demoralizing effect on local democracy. Indeed,  the establishment of a charter school in place of a public institution has the real practical effect of diminishing the rights of parents to be involved in their children’s education; it curtails the parents’ standing as “citizens” and leaves them only as “consumers” or “stakeholders,” at best. Once the market takes over from community, as the guardian of education, in too many instances it becomes a matter of “buyer beware.”  The scandals in Connecticut and all over the nation regarding the financial, ethical and pedagogical practices of Charter School Management Companies are too common to be lightly dismissed. It’s revealing that the Windham Middle School turnaround Committee was invited (by State officials) to consider a “lead partner” turnaround plan with Jumoke-FUSE, presided over by the disgraced Michael Sharpe. The children in Windham have significant and urgent needs, and playing roulette with their education—that is, gambling on finding competent and trustworthy charter school operators—is not a reasonable or moral course of action

Now comes ConnCAN, the major sponsor of HB 5551, asking for more deregulation and for more schools to be included in the Commissioner’s Network. It’s clear that giving the State Department of Education more power to grant waivers on budgeting, staffing, programming and so on is a not only a recipe for allowing in all sorts of bad possibilities, it also represents an assault on the local control of schools, as the State (not being bound by certain statutory mandates) could, in essence, allow things to be done at Commissioner’s Network Schools that most parents would profoundly disagree with, and yet the parents would have no form of redress. At this point, Connecticut would de facto have two educational systems: one in which parents were active participants with a voice, the other in which parents would be voiceless and could be actively ignored. It does not help matters that many of the schools in the Commissioner’s Network are overwhelmingly populated by ethnic and racial minorities. The perception and reality of “separate and unequal” schools would be hard to disavow. ConnCAN and other charter schools advocates wish to empower the State to undertake “high level interventions” in the name of “bold changes” and dramatic positive effects. But in truth the State of Connecticut already has considerable sovereign powers in the field of education. Giving more power to the State (by leave of the Commissioner’s Network) would be tantamount to the complete disenfranchisement of local communities. In other words, it would be profound and unwarranted assault on democracy.

No one doubts that the education system in Connecticut is in need of certain reforms, but school privatization (with the beneficiaries as Charter School Management Companies of dubious competence) does not exhaust all reform measures. For example, it’s clear that the funding structure in Connecticut is unjust and unsustainable and one can easily see that a more efficient educational system would involve more school regionalization, as well as other initiatives.

Horace Mann, the great American educator who played such a vital role in helping to establish common schools, once said: “I believe in the existence of a great, immutable principle…the absolute right of every human being that comes into the world to an education; and which, of course, proves the correlative duty of every government to see that the means of that education are provided for all.” It is my sincere conviction that the expansion and deregulation of the Commissioner’s Network (called for by ConnCAN) will not meet the standard outlined by Horace Mann. And for this reason I urge you to reject the passage of the proposed bill.